An extensive ongoing investigation into gymnastics gyms across America now reveals that at least 368 athletes have alleged some form of sexual abuse from coaches, gym owners and other adults working in the sport over the past two decades.
The IndyStar-USA TODAY Network investigation gathered its data from thousands of pages of public records, news stories and interviews with more than 100 people – and found that the alleged abuse happened all across the country.
“It's just too easy for coaches to keep getting hired and hired and hired,” Nancy Hogshead-Makar, an Olympic gold-medal swimmer and attorney who now leads the advocacy group Champion Women, told the newspaper. “Sexual abuse thrives on the fact that people are embarrassed about the topic, ashamed to talk about it, and they keep quiet about it. And that's exactly why molesting coaches keep getting hired at the next place.”
Among the cases: children as young as 6 being secretly photographed nude by coaches, instructors slipping fingers inside girls’ leotards and a coach having sex daily with a 14-year-old at one of the country’s top gyms.
While 115 adults at all levels of the sport face accusations, USA Gymnastics, its governing body in the U.S. based in Indianapolis, is blamed for failing to alert police.
The newspaper reported that accusers’ stories were treated with skepticism by USA Gymnastics officials. Former gymnasts Charmaine Carnes and Jennifer Sey said CEO Steve Penny pressured them not to pursue allegations of abuse.
USA Gymnastics, in response, has hired a former prosecutor to offer advice on how to strengthen its policies and established a policy review panel on its board of directors.
“Nothing is more important to USA Gymnastics, the Board of Directors and CEO Steve Penny than protecting athletes, which requires sustained vigilance by everyone — coaches, athletes, parents, administrators and officials,” the organization said in a statement. “We are saddened when any athlete has been harmed in the course of his or her gymnastics career.”
The organization added that it requires background checks for coaches and publishes the names of coaches banned from its competitions.